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The Mind Screen

Identification Desire and Its Cinematic Arena

Georg Schmid

For well over a century cinema has exerted enormous influence, yet many questions regarding its fascination remain unanswered. Films work so well because the viewers tend to unconsciously identify with the actors/actresses. The desire to become another, substituting identity by identification, can be traced to the illusion that the filmic heroes/heroines are immortal – identifying with them raises the possibility of gaining «deathlessness.» Viewers can, without real life risks, experiment with the existential drafts presented; the power of imagination is mobilized. Based on a multidisciplinary approach (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, plus a healthy dose of film history), this book presents prolegomena of a philosophy of cinema.
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7 The Doctors (Continued)–and Those Who Need to See Them


What makes people invest themselves in films, by falling back on techniques that can be termed identificatory processes? I have already suggested that perceived affinity activates attraction. The impression of semblance, at best pre-conscious (it is to be assumed), is usually actuated by the filmic personage one is confronted with. It can also be incited by situative constituents of the movie in question. In the first case, let us assume, the “magic” of the actor or actress (who has become the personage he or she incarnates) does the job which consists in sucking the spectator into the film. This causes a strange feeling of limbo: you cannot be sure whether you are solely watching or maybe even, in a strange way, participating. In the latter case it is the décor in the widest sense that activates the entry into the film, be it because of its familiarity or its exact opposite, the lure of exoticness.

In some respects, we are back at the classical differentiation between projection and empathy plus what could be called passive imitation in a realm either well known or tempting because of its unfamiliarity. The promise of thrill, suspense, adventure certainly exerts a powerful inducement to traverse the gate to the alternate universe of filmic experience. The inducement is most often offered by empathy: you feel that there is an elective kinship between the proffered character and your own mental dispositions. And then you project yourself into the fiction; you do...

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